My hope for the U.S. electronics recycling industry in 2017 is that we will move forward meeting new challenges without falling backwards by neglecting old problems.
There are many new and exciting issues to address in the world of electronics recycling. The continuing expansion of the internet has led to dramatic changes in every facet of the industry. Mobile phones are smaller, have more functionality and are much more numerous than their PC ancestors. Expansion of the “cloud” has introduced electronic components into a staggering array of products from home security systems and automobiles to lawn sprinklers and the Internet of Things (IOT). Cyber security continues to be a large and growing concern. I’m confident that responsible manufacturers, recyclers, regulators, and institutions will provide the innovations and oversight to meet these new challenges.
As tempting as it may be to look forward and focus solely on upcoming trends, it would be a mistake to neglect issues from the past that continue present hazards and risks. The concern about industry standards and certifications has led to the development and widespread acceptance of voluntary standard certifications (R2, e-Stewards). The excellent work being done by the program owners, the auditors, and recyclers to strengthen compliance and oversight should continue to preserve the industry’s reputation for effective self-governance. Strong efforts to eliminate hazardous materials from electronic products has resulted in reduced risks posed by lead, mercury, and brominated flame-retardants.
In contrast to the successes mentioned above, the current state of recycling for cathode ray tube (CRT) displays in the U.S. is notable for its inconsistencies and well-publicized failures. The top news stories for several years have disclosed illegal exports/disposals, bankruptcies, and abandoned mountains of leaded glass. The recycling funds generated by the advanced recycling fee paid by consumers in California and the manufacturer funded programs in 24 other states provide nearly $200 million annually. This level of current funding has not been adequate to provide a comprehensive, effective program that would prevent the numerous clean-up incidents. As many experts have noted, there is no shortage of technical solutions or capacity, only one of funding.
I believe most of the interested and responsible parties (manufacturers, recyclers, state legislators, NGOs, concerned citizens) are weary of our CRT problem and wish it would go away. I know I do. But individuals and organizations continue to discard CRTs that require proper disposal; sooner or later. An effective recycling program is much less expensive than a future remediation and clean-up effort.
The U.S. recycling industry has made a lot of progress since the initial landfill bans of electronics in the 1980s and export restrictions in the 1990s. Abdicating our collective responsibility to safely recycle the remaining CRTs entering the waste stream would represent a giant step backwards.
ISRI Electronics Division Chair